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Diversity in the Physical Sciences

The division is committed to solving the persistent problem of underrepresentation within physical sciences and mathematics in the U.S. Our efforts to address the issue span the path to a professional career - from training teachers to better prepare future university students to attracting and retaining a diverse faculty. Here are some of the people who have been recognized for their work to include the widest range of talent in these fields.

2012 Diversity Awards recognize efforts to broaden participation in math and science 

Every year about 150 of high school students from schools throughout San Diego County and Tijuana come to UC San Diego to hear an internationally recognized scientist or mathematician talk about their work and get a taste of the intellectual life of a university. Working behind the scenes of this event, the Kyoto Prize Symposium given by the basic sciences laureate each year, is Bruce Arnold, director of UC San Diego’s diagnostics, testing and placement program for mathematics.

Bruce ArnoldEvery week, more than 200 students from primary grades through high school come to campus to explore mathematics with university mathematicians. Arnold brought this program, the San Diego Math Circle, to campus in 2003 with just six students. Now he has proposed an expansion into the City Heights neighborhood of San Diego to reach students without a way to travel to campus.

For these and other outreach programs, including a statistics competition for high school students that he created, a computer security tournament that he helps to coordinate, and his leadership in a regional consortium of colleges and universities that considers which mathematics should be taught and how, Arnold was recognized with the Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs’ Diversity Award at a ceremony held February 13.

When COMSATS, a inter-governmental organization that promotes socio-economic development through science and technology, convened a panel to discuss how to involve more women from southern nations, they called Robina Shaheen, a project scientist here at UC San Diego. She had a wealth of experience to offer. From Pakistan, Shaheen has earned advanced degrees in physical chemistry and has worked for the International Atomic Energy Agency, focusing on clean, safe water supplies for developing nations.

Robina ShaheenHere at UC San Diego, Shaheen’s contributions have been more personal. While developing new methods of analyzing traces of ancient atmospheres locked in rocks from Earth and elsewhere, like Mars, Shaheen has worked with many undergraduates, often members of groups who remain underrepresented in science, making sure that they know of the wealth of opportunities available to them, encouraging them to set their sights high, pursue challenging projects and apply to top programs for graduate work. And they’ve succeeded in winning awards for their undergraduate research and are thriving in their graduate studies.

Shaheen views the achievements of these students as a tribute to her mother who has encouraged her from the very beginning of her own successful career. For these contributions to the scientific community on campus and beyond, Shaheen received a campus-wide Diversity Award. 

2011 Equal Opportunity/Affirmative Action and Diversity Awards

In his capacity as both Chair and Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry, Robert Continetti has devoted major amounts of time, effort and intellect towards raising the level of diversity at UC San Diego.

He chaired the chancellor's diversity council from 2009 to 2011 and has served on the Campus Climate Council since its inception in 2010. Under his leadership the diversity council focused on recruitment of undergraduate and graduate students, as well as a disability and inclusion issues. The council expanded to include a wider range of stakeholders including organizations such as the Chicano/Latino Consilio, the Ujima Network and the American Indian Faculty and Staff Association. They also led the effort to amend the Principles of Community to explicitly include gender identity as a dimension of diversity.

Beyond these campus-wide efforts, Continetti has played a leadership role in advancing diversity in his role as Department Chair. During his five and half years as Chair, one-third of the tenure-track hires made have been women and underrepresented minorities in the fields of Chemistry and Biochemistry. This has been achieved by careful attention to best practices in broadening applicant pools. He has also established a committee within the Department to coordinate Diversity and Outreach efforts.

Christopher Smith, director for education, outreach and training at the Center for Theoretical Biological Physics, has provided learning and research opportunities to a diverse group of students.

Smith developed a seminar series for California State University, San Marcos, that features UC and community researchers and engineers. The talks also draw minority students to the center’s Research Experience for Undergraduates program, which supported more than 50 students last year, more than half of them underrepresented minorities and more than a third women.

Smith also created a course at Cal State San Marcos on biological physics that introduces undergraduates, a third of them underrepresented minorites, to the leading edge of this field while providing postdocs from the center, many of them underrepresented minorities themselves, the opportunity to hone their teaching skills.

Smith organizes annual training workshops that benefit scientists from both teaching and research institutions. By advertising the workshops through both traditional and non-traditional venues, he has gathered participants from the full spectrum of educational institutions.

Smith also found funding to develop program in a local school district that serves a significant under-represented minority population, recently received an award from the California School Boards Association.